Democratic World Government and the Thought of Mahatma Gandhi

Dr. Glen T. Martin

Professor of Philosophy, Radford University

President, International Philosophers for Peace

Note: This article was published in Bhavan’s Journal, May 2003, a worldwide publication based in Mumbai, India.   This article was picked up and reprinted in World Union Quarterly, September 2003 issue.

At the dawn of the 21st century, the essence and spirit of Gandhi’s thought cries out for non-military, democratic world government.  The world has moved in the past 50 years to the point where the violence that Gandhi abhorred is institutionalized on a global scale.   It is institutionalized in the system of nation states each pretending to be sovereign independently from the sovereignty of the people of the earth.   It is institutionalized in a global economic system in which the exploitation of the poor by the rich has reached planetary proportions.  And it is, of course, institutionalized in the bogus “war on terrorism” that is an effort by the imperial states to secure their economic, political, and military domination over the entire world.  This essay shows that the spirit of Gandhi’s life and thought support the vision of a new world order embodied in the Constitution for the Federation of Earth (Harris 1993, Appendix).

This Constitution has been translated into twenty-two languages and is being promoted world-wide by the World Constitution and Parliament Association and the Institute On World Problems (later renamed as the Earth Constitution Institute).  It provides for a federation of nations and peoples, creating democratic participation for every citizen of Earth within a World Parliament for the first time in history.   The World Parliament and all the agencies of world government have the explicit mandate and duty to work for the welfare of the entire planet, of every living person, and of future generations.

Gandhi’s life and thought expressed the truth of the Vedas that the “human family” is one.  “Mankind is one,” he writes, “seeing that all are equally subject to the Moral Law.  All men are equal in God’s eyes.  There are, of course, differences of race and status and the like; but the higher the status of a man, the greater is his responsibility….And all work towards a common end – the welfare of humanity.” (Ethical Religion, p. 56 (in Hingorani 34))  

The Earth Constitution embodies this principle within a legal and moral framework that makes its realization truly possible for the first time in history.   In today’s world of economic globalization, Sarvodaya cannot be realized by individual governments working alone.  Multinational corporations through the World Trade Organization have such immense power that individual governments must weaken environmental laws and other protections of their populations in order to get investments and trade.  The international indebtedness of poor countries forces them to accept “structural adjustment” measures that put local people out of work and force governments to end public health care and education.  

The Earth Constitution, on the other hand, creates not only world democracy but a new economic order directed to eliminating poverty and misery worldwide. It guarantees every citizen on Earth free health care and education and employment at wages that “ensure human dignity.”  “According to me,” Gandhi writes, “the economic constitution of India, and for the matter of that of the world, should be such that no one under it should suffer from want of food and clothing….The neglect of this simple principle is the cause of the destitution we witness today, not only in this unhappy land, but other parts of the world, too.”  (Young India: Nov. 15, 1928, in Hingorani, 272)

For Gandhi, India’s role in world history was to provide a spiritual and moral center for the regeneration of the world towards peace and justice.   He urged India not to imitate the warlike behavior of the West but to become “a new India bearing the best that the West has to give and becoming the hope not only for Asia and Africa, but the whole of the aching world.”  (Indian Opinion, December 1914, Jesudasan, 64)   The ultimate solutions must involve “the whole of the aching world.”

 The Earth Constitution creates a non-military world government and abolishes all weapons of war from the Earth, to be carefully and systematically eliminated by the Earth Disarmament Agency.   The moral and spiritual leadership of India must ultimately lead to the institutionalization of peace under a federal world government.  The problem, as Gandhi understood, is that our solutions remain fractured and fragmented.  We do not visualize a sarvodaya for the “whole of the aching world.”   We may talk about the moral unity of humankind but we are not willing to create institutions that embody that moral unity in a practical, legal way.

Even with respect to swadeshi, Gandhi emphasizes that self-sufficiency cannot be created at the expense of others but only by recognizing interdependency.   “All living beings are members one of another,” he writes, “so that a person’s every act has a beneficial or harmful influence on the whole world,… and an awareness of this truth should make us realize our responsibility.”  (Hingorani, 73, Ashram Observances in Action, p. 67.)   The Earth Constitution gives every nation “the right to determine its own social, political and economic system within the framework of the human rights provided for all citizens of the planet.” (Article XIV, 2) 

 It is this principle of federalism, and the protection of individual cultures, races, ethnicities, religions, communities, and persons that world government under the Constitution a concrete embodiment of Gandhi’s vision. Our responsibility is not simply self-sufficiency, but a world system that makes possible self-sufficiency for everyone.  As Dr. Rama Sen says of Gandhi, “His integral approach is the result of his conviction that human life is a unity and a synthetic whole….No problem can be regarded as essentially metaphysical or moral or social or political or religious.  Life must be lived in accordance with a plan or an integral scheme.” (“Only Gandhi Can Save Humanity,” in Sheshrao Chavan, ed.  Mahatma Gandhi – Man of the Millennium, p. 266)   At the dawn of the third millennium, that integral scheme is found in the Constitution for the Federation of Earth.  

Of the many various constitutions that have been proposed for the world, this is the only one that has proceeded through four Constituent Assemblies, created a functioning Provisional World Parliament, and is promoted by a global organization: the World Constitution and Parliament Association.   It is carefully designed as an “integral scheme” or plan for eliminating poverty, protecting the environment, and disarming the world in order to convert human affairs to nonviolent methods of dispute resolution (world courts, world parliament, world ombudsmus, etc.).

The Preamble to the Constitution affirms the following Gandhian principles: “Conscious that Humanity is One despite the existence of diverse nations, races, creeds, ideologies and cultures and that the principle of unity in diversity is the basis for a new age when war shall be outlawed and peace prevail; when the earth’s total resources shall be equitably used for human welfare, and when basic human rights and responsibilities shall be shared by all without discrimination….”   It creates a legal framework for global unity in diversity that for the first time can make possible the unity of Moslems and Hindus, of rich and poor, of Indians and Pakistanis, of Americans and Cubans, of all races, creeds and ideologies. 

Gandhi understood that diversity cannot be protected without a fundamental unity and interdependence. In Gandhi’s time, full swaraj meant for him full partnership in the Commonwealth of Nations. (Jesudasan 57).  In our time swaraj for each nation or people means participation in the Federation of Earth.  “Complete Independence through Truth and Nonviolence,” he wrote, “means the independence of every unity, be it the humblest of the nation, without distinction of race, colour or creed.  This Independence is never exclusive.  It is, therefore, wholly compatible with inter-dependence within or without.” (Constructive Program, 1945 Edition, p. 5, Hingorani, 125)   Swaraj, Gandhi says, requires “complete independence of alien control and complete economic independence” as well as “moral and social elevation.” (Hingorani 115, Harijan, Jan. 2, 1937)    As we have seen, this moral and social elevation is embodied in the Preamble to the Earth Constitution in the realization that there can be no true independence without the unity and interdependence of the entire planet.

Raghavan N. Iyer writes that Gandhi held an open view of human possibilities and the future. (97)  Indeed, he assumed that human beings could progress in their moral and spiritual development and that India’s role was to lead in the moral elevation of civilization.  “Man’s triumph will consist in substituting the struggle for existence by the struggle for mutual service,” Gandhi wrote, “the law of the brute will be replaced by the law of man.”  (Jesudasan 127, Autobiography V: XXXIV)  

It is this positive view of our human possibilities that makes Gandhi’s thought at one with that of Sri Aurobindo who wrote that “a free world-union must in its very nature be a complex unity based on a diversity and that diversity must be based on free self-determination.”  (The Human Cycle, p.517)   When accused of being “utopian,” Gandhi answered that each of us should live our utopias at all times. (Jesudasan, 32)  “Civilization,” Gandhi said, “cannot be pushing buttons and killing ever more people.”  (Hind Swaraj, Chap VI: 1908).   Civilization will come when men have elevated their moral being.  (Hind Swaraj, Chap VIII: 1908)   It will come when they have achieved peace with justice through creating a world order based on the principle of unity and diversity and the moral perfectibility of human beings.  And moral progress for human beings means that we have focused on the true welfare all, not simply on the majority. (Unto This Last – A Paraphrase: p. IX,  Hingorani 32)   The Constitution for the Federation of Earth, everywhere and always requires the world government to focus on the welfare of the entire planet.

The ultimately authority under the Constitution is the World Parliament consisting of three houses: the House of Nations will have representatives from all nations, the House of Peoples will have representatives from one thousand electoral districts worldwide, and the House of Counselors will have 200 representatives elected from 20 regions of the Earth by students and faculty in those regions.  The purpose of this third house is to have people in the world government who see and act on the good of the whole, not merely particularized interests.

We have seen that Gandhi’s life and thought with regard to sarvodaya, India’s role in world history, swadeshi, unity and holism, the principle of unity in diversity, and the promise of moral progress for humankind all point towards federal world government as this is envisaged under the Earth Constitution.  The same is true of satyagraha and ahimsa.  Gandhi said that it was his mission to convert the world to ahimsa. (Hingorani 120)   Ahimsa, he says, includes as its’ attributes “truth, harmony, brotherhood, justice, etc.”  (Hingorani 15)  

Truly democratic processes are inherently nonviolent and the Earth Constitution makes possible for the first time true democracy on planet Earth.  It demilitarizes the world and allows the world police to possess only weapons sufficient to apprehend individuals.  Weapons of war from tanks to fighter jets are made illegal.  Good laws (as Aristotle also argued in the Politics) can be used as a vehicle for the moral improvement of humankind.  A world in which war, and the making or possessing weapons of war is illegal, is a world where people are being converted to nonviolence.

In Gandhi’s thought, political domination of one nation by another is one form of institutionalized violence.  Foreign rule, he writes, is “organized violence.” (Jesudasan 34)   Hence, in a world where the powerful nations directly or indirectly dominate the weaker and poorer nations is one where swaraj and true democracy do not exist. This pattern of powerful imperial nations dominating weaker ones is intrinsic to the nation-state system of the past five centuries.  There is no way to change this pattern except through a world authority over all the nations that legally and effectively disarms all nations and requires disputes to be settled in the courts.

The same is true of “the organized violence of economic exploitation.” (Jesudasan 120)   When giant corporations penetrate India to exploit its poor masses, institutionalized violence is a reality.   A world order in which these conditions of political domination and economic exploitation prevail is inherently violent for Gandhi.  “Economics that hurt the moral well-being of an individual or nation are immoral and, therefore, sinful. Thus, the economics that permit one country to prey upon another are immoral.”  (Jesudasan 120)  “True economics,” he says, “. . . stands for social justice, it promotes the good of all equally including the weakest, and is indispensable for decent life.”  (Jesudasan 120). 

 “The structure of a world federation,” Gandhi writes, “can be raised only on a foundation of nonviolence, and violence will have to be given up totally in world affairs.”  (GCG, 1942-44, p. 143, Praghu and Rao, p. 460)   In this respect the Constitution for the Federation of Earth initiates a non-violent world order for the first time in history, since it abolishes at once not only war but political domination and economic exploitation and guarantees every person on Earth a living wage, life-long health care, and social security.  

The democratic processes institutionalized under the Constitution, of course, also promote nonviolence and spiritual progress among human beings by taking conflict off the battlefield (now made illegal) and placing it within a setting of dialogue and debate.  With a World Judiciary to settle disputes among nations, groups and persons, a World Ombudsmus to defend human rights worldwide and mandated to be a watchdog on government itself, and with a World Police allowed only those weapons necessary to apprehend individuals, the Constitution institutionalizes a major leap forward in nonviolence (and the possibility of further moral progress) as the legal framework for humankind. 

Gandhi later referred to his time in South Africa when he committed his life to satyagraha as the most creative moment of his life. (Jesudasan 12)  It may be, in our day, that the most creative moment of our own lives could be commitment to the satyagraha institutionalized in Constitution for the Federation of Earth.


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Chavan, Sheshrao (2002).  This unpublished paper was emailed to me.  It appeared in the volume resulting from the Third International Conference of Chief Justices of the World, Lucknow, India, December 3-5, 2002.

Einstein, Albert (1950).  Out of My Later Years.  New York: Philosophical Library.

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Harris, Errol E. (1993).  Appendix: A Constitution for the Federation of Earth.  One World or None: Prescription for Survival.  Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey: Humanities Press, pp. 119-196.  The Constitution can be purchased from the Institute on Economic Democracy Press and ordered from It is also available at various web sites such as  and

Harris, Errol E. (1999).  “Summary Outline History of World Federalism.” Toward Genuine Global Governance: Critical Reactions to Our Global Neighborhood.  Errol E. Harris and James A. Yunker, eds.  Westport, Connecticut: Praeger, pp. 183-196.

Hingorani, Anand T. (1998). Gandhi for 21st Century: 24 Volumes. Third Edition. Mumbai: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.

Iyer, Raghavan N. (1973).  The Moral and Political Thought of Mahatma Gandhi.  New York: Oxford University Press.

Jesudasan, Ignatius, S. J. (1984).  A Gandian Theology of Liberation.  Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books.

Sen, Rama (2001).  “Only Gandhi Can Save Humanity.”  Mahatma Gandhi – Man of the Millennium.  Sheshrao Chavan, ed.  Delhi: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, pp. 265-286.